1890s "Support for the Poor" - Katzenmeier Brothers
Updated: Jan 7
All cemeteries have a “free lot” or “town lot,” an area set aside for the burial of those without means. In Old Parish Cemetery, the town lot is located in the center of the burial ground, at the base of a grassy slope. Research into those buried in this plot tells the poignant story of a family in distress.
The tale begins in 1890 when the Norwood Resident Directory lists the Katzenmeier family – Mrs. Margaret Katzenmeier and her sons, Charles, George, Henry, and William. Charles and George worked at the N.Y. & N.E. Railroad car shops on Lenox Street, Henry was a farm hand, and William worked at the Winslow tannery. Then, troubles began to stalk the family.
Sometime during 1890 the town of Norwood had to pay $33.00 for room and board and nursing services for Willie Katzenmeier; such payments were listed in the annual town report under the heading “Support for the Poor.” These were the days before the United States had any sort of state or federal social service systems like unemployment, aid to families and children, social security, or Medicare/Medicaid. Each community had to assume the cost for their destitute residents. In January of 1891, Willie Katzenmeier died of septicemia; he was 22 and was buried in the town lot.
On December 27, 1895, George Katzenmeier, 34, died suddenly of heart disease. The Norwood Advertiser and Reviewreported that he was single, had many friends who mourned his loss, and had worked in the boiler department at the car shops. The paper also wrote that he was of German descent and “was buried beside his brother, William.”
Meanwhile, Charles Katzenmeier spent time in Chicago but by 1895 was living on Guild Street and paid poll tax along with one Frank Katzenmeier, both were house painters. By the end of that year, however, Charles’ name too appears under “Support for the Poor” in the annual report. The town paid $212.82 for a doctor’s exam and for board at the State Lunatic Hospital at Taunton. Founded in 1854, later known as the Taunton State Hospital, it was the second such state asylum, after Worcester, opened in Massachusetts. As one can imagine, it was a forbidding place, despite the efforts and intentions of staff.
Charles Katzenmeier died on December 10, 1898, at the hospital. The Town of Norwood paid $159.63 to the Taunton Insane Hospital for board, and $30.00 to Charles Dexter, an undertaker on Maple Street, for burial – in the town lot alongside his brothers.
Henry Katzenmeier remained in Norwood. According to local newspaperman Win Everett, the “burly and powerful” Henry Katzenmeier was a well-received participant in Norwood’s early bicycle races – usually a nine-mile marathon along the unpaved streets of town. In the 1937 Town Directory, Henry was a laborer living at 450 Walpole Street.